By Mannix Porterfield
CHARLESTON -- Paying their own way, a contingent of West Virginia lawmakers is heading to Washington next week in an effort to coax the Environmental Protection Agency to ease its regulations threatening to put more miners out of work and close power plants.
West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney applauded the effort, but reminded the Democrats who are leading the effort that their own party has been calling the shots in the EPA’s “war on coal.”
“And you simply cannot let them off the hook just by simply meeting with them,” Raney declared at a news conference that highlighted an otherwise quiet interims session.
“These regulations have been absolutely unacceptable and our people are suffering so bad. Our people that manage the mines are absolutely sickened by the way these policies are causing the Kanawha River plant to close, causing power plants across this country to close, and removing the domestic market.”
Raney said the Obama administration seems to “care very little about Appalachia” and the families that live here.
“It is so very critical that you hold these people’s feet to the fire in Washington,” the industry leader said.
State Democratic Chairman Larry Puccio said the entourage, about 15 to 17 lawmakers who are financing the visit, not taxpayers, hopes to send “one strong message that America has called on us to keep the lights on.”
“We call on America to keep the lights on for the families of our coal miners,” Puccio said.
“This is not about politics. This is about people.”
Republicans swiftly disagreed, attacking the Democrat-led announcement as “disingenuous hypocrisy from liberals” and a “charade.” Chairman Conrad Lucas charged the bus trip is an effort by Democrats to distract voters from their failures.
“The party of Obama and his endorsers who stood at the governor’s office today have done everything possible to destroy the coal industry, raise energy prices, allow the government to take over health care, and weaken our nation,” Lucas said.
“We're excited that West Virginia Democrats will be taking a bus out of state. Citizens can only hope it is a one-way trip.”
Meeting with the delegation will be Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said he hopes the Obama administration will listen to the group, since most are Democrats, but said it hasn’t paid any heed to those who can create jobs and provide a decent living for their families.
Roberts faulted the Obama administration for “ratcheting down” banking rules to the point only those who can afford a loan qualify for one, a policy that is harmful to the economy.
“We’ve seen this administration monkey with the National Labor Relations Act and board and tried to take it apart, making it more challenging to put people back to work,” the Chamber leader said.
Roberts said the national health care law has been re-named “the unaffordable health care act” and is supported by only 34 percent of the voters.
“Enough is enough,” he said.
“Change is needed. If we can't get the attention of the Obama administration, we can help settle this at the ballot box.”
Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, said the entourage will travel as "one voice" in a meeting with the EPA.
"We need to make sure the message is heard loud and clear -- that coal does keep on the lights on in this state, in this country, in this region, and in our communities," Kessler said.
"We need to have an energy policy that includes all of the above and that includes coal. Coal has been an important component and fabric of our state, our communities, our jobs and our economic base."
Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, an international representative of the United Mine Workers of America, said the Democratic Party has always been in the forefront of taking care of people.
"Coal is the main piston in our economic engine in West Virginia," he said.
"I don't think that people are really seeing the devastation of the new EPA regulations, what it's going to cause downstream to our communities."
New House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the matter of EPA regulations is "a very important issue for our state."
"Until they're able to see the faces behind the people here in West Virginia who are complaining about what the administration is doing to our coal industry, they may not have the sensitivity to understand the effects it will have on us and the people we represent," he said.